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Rain Gardens - A Beautiful Way To Improve Water Quality


Stop Water Pollution In Its Tracks!

Did you know that 85% of pollutants in our lakes and streams is the result of stormwater runoff?

Did you know that every parking lot and road that is built only increases the pollution?

Did you know that these pollutants affect wildlife habitats as well as our rivers, streams, lakes and other wetlands?

I took this photo of a sign embedded in the concrete near a street drain in Los Angeles. I was really pleased to see it.

In this article, I'll try to explain why our eco-system is affected by storm runoff and how each of us can make a huge difference.


What Is A Rain Garden?

And Why Do We Need Them?

A rain garden is really a garden planted with native flowers and grasses. Rain Gardens are designed to absorb rainwater runoff from driveways, sidewalks and the roofs of homes and other buildings.

Every time it rains or every time you water your lawn or wash your car, the water runoff goes either directly into a river, lake or ocean or through a city drainage system and eventually into the rivers, lakes and oceans.

All of the water that runs off streets, driveways and roofs ends up in the rivers, lakes and oceans, too.

So think about what's in that water runoff...it's probably chemicals from fertilizers, exhaust from cars, etc.

Instead of flowing down into storm drains, the runoff from these impervious surfaces soaks into the ground, thereby reducing the amount pollution from exhaust fumes and lawn fertilizers, etc. that eventually ends up in our lakes, rivers and oceans.

If you live on a lake or at the seashore, consider lakescaping. Lakescapes are the equivalent of raingardens but they're saving our natural bodies of water right at the source! How great is that?


How A Rain Garden Can Help

Here's a quote from "Land And Water" The Magazine of Natural Resource Management and Restoration in an article about rainwater gardens in Burnsville, Minnesota.

"By capturing runoff in shallow depressions and letting it soak into the ground, rainwater gardens not only lowers the peak flow, but increases the base flow of water that reaches lakes and streams, but help recharge stores of groundwater in aquifers. Moreover, they filter out sediment and other pollutants like oil, grease and heavy metals by catching about the first inch of runoff, which contains the highest concentration of pollutants.

Rainwater gardens transform stormwater from a destructive carrier of pollution into a source of sustenance for plant and wildlife habitats: the plants thrive on nitrogen and phosphorus, while their stems trap sediment."

Just One Example Of A Rain Garden

Just One Example Of A Rain Garden

Just One Example Of A Rain Garden

A Beautiful Solution To Water Pollution

This is a powerful video all about Rain Gardens and well worth watching.

NOTE: It's not as long as it looks because for some reason it will run twice. You can stop it after it's first run.

Grants for Planting Rain Gardens

Check with your county Soil and Water Conservation District to see if they are offering grants for planting rain gardens or lakescaping or other land restoration projects. There may be funds available in your area.

A Newly Planted Rain Garden

A Newly Planted Rain Garden

A Newly Planted Rain Garden


First Planting

This rain garden is in Minnesota and it's brand new. It'll catch the runoff from the road and sidewalk. Notice its shape and position. It'll be beautiful in a very short period of time.

Rain Gardens typically have more wildflowers than grasses so they're usually more colorful when they're mature. Be sure to plant the taller varieties at the back or in the center and the smaller wildflowers and sedges around the edges.

Rain Garden Links

These links will give you all the information you need to design and plant your very own rain garden.

  • Native Rain Garden
    This is hands down the best website I've found on the subject of rain gardens. No matter where you live in the United States, you will find everything you need at this website to plant your perfect rain garden.
  • 10,000 Rain Gardens
    This Kansas City website is one of the best I've seen. It's got tons of information that useful no matter where you live.
  • Rain Garden Network | Photo Gallery
    Rain Garden Network offers planning tools, installation services and education & outreach materials & services to homeowners, organizations and municipalities

Rain Garden Basics - From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

I am copying this list verbatim from the Minnesota DNR website because it describes perfectly the procedure for basic planting and maintenance of Rain Gardens. It was written by a guy named Tom Dixon.

I just couldn't have said it better, myself!

  1. Choose a low or wet spot in your yard where water drains naturally. The closer to the street, the better the spot. Make sure it's at least 15 feet from any home foundation to avoid basement wetness.
  2. Check the soil. Sand-based soil works well. Clay-soil gardens are not recommended.
  3. Use a garden hose to outline the area. Any shape is fine.
  4. After checking for underground power lines and other utilities, dig a shallow depression, with the center at a depth of 12 to 18 inches, feathering out to the perimeter.
  5. Dig a shallow trench from the downspout or sump pump outlet to the garden.
  6. Choose native plants and cultivars that tolerate drought and occasional drenching. As a general rule of thumb, plants should be about 18 inches apart, or one plant per 2.5 square feet.
  7. Mow or remove the dead vegetation each spring, or burn it off if local ordinances allow. Weed three times per growing season. (Tree seedlings are usually the most abundant weeds.)

Native Grasses and Wildflowers

  • Native Grasses and Wildflowers | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
    There are hundreds of beautiful wildflowers that can be used in rain gardens. Of course, the best wildflowers to use are those native to your particular location. All of the photographs in this link are from my personal collection. Enjoy!

Mulching Your Newly Planted Rain Garden

Protecting the tiny plants

When you create a rain garden or a lakescape, it's important to protect the tiny plants after you've set them into the earth. Mulching the plants helps keep the moisture to the roots until they become strong. After the plants are established and spreading, they will need very little care.

Good Mulch and Bad Mulch - Protect Louisiana's Cypress Forests

Please do not use cypress mulch in any of your gardens. The cypress forests of Louisiana are being destroyed at an alarming rate by indiscriminate clear cutting. This not only affects the critical habitat but it removes the natural protection against hurricane damage to the coastline.

There are a number of sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch and I've listed some here from the Save Our Cypress website. Read more about this at Save Our Cypress

  1. Recycled Yard Waste
  2. Leaves
  3. Pine Straw
  4. Pine Bark Mulch
  5. Eucalyptus Mulch

What Can You Do If You Live In A City? - You can help, even if you're an apartment dweller

There are many ways to help save our natural waterways, even if you don't own or live in a home with a yard or garden.

  1. Never dump anything down a city street drain!
  2. Pick up after your pets.
  3. Periodically check your vehicles for leaks.
  4. Always recycle your motor oil.
  5. Wash your car at a car wash, not in your driveway.

Did You Know....

...that the average gasoline powered mower tested by the EPA emits in one hour of operation the same amount of hydrocarbons that a 1992 Ford Explorer emits over 23,600 miles?

SOURCE: Green Seal's Report


Learning About Rain Gardens - A Useful Resource

Tell me what you think - good or bad, I can take it. Just be polite, please.

Thank you very much!

Your Comments and Suggestions, Please

justramblin on September 27, 2012:

Thanks for the tips. I like using native pants, they always do better in a drought and we had a bad one this year in the midwest. Now I have more reason to dislike seeing people wasting water by washing cars on driveways.

BarbaraCasey on February 27, 2011:

Good to know about the cypress mulch, thanks.

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on November 22, 2010:

@anonymous: Another very good idea. Thanks for the visit!

anonymous on November 07, 2010:


Support pervious paving, either asphalt or concrete. Do It!

Reason: It allows water to pass through and helps

recharge stores of groundwater in aquifers

instead of running wildly off causing erosion and sediment

pollution in our streams and lakes, etc.

Society is facing a water shortage for good clean safe drinking water.

Let's educate ourselves and mandate changes in paving. It's that important.

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on September 22, 2010:

@Charmcrazey: Thank you very, very much for the angel blessing, Wanda. I did read your lens on the native plant gardening in Florida and learned a thing or two!! So thank you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, too.

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on September 10, 2010:

A beautiful example of a native plant garden. I'm interested in native plants and wrote a lens on native plant gardening in Florida. Thanks for being so conscious of our environment and your lens is squid angel blessed.

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on July 08, 2010:

@KathyMcGraw2: Hi Kathy! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind comments. We love our native flowers and grasses and so does our lake!!

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on July 08, 2010:

@Virginia Allain: Well, thank you very much for the visit! Isn't it nice that gardening isn't just "pretty"? It's also earth friendly...ya gotta love that!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on June 30, 2010:

Such an important message! I love to garden and now I can also feel that I'm doing something for the planet's water supply too.

Kathy McGraw from California on June 30, 2010:

Hi Cheryl....saw your picture on the Introducing Giants and had to come say hi. What I didn't expect was to find this great article...I have been trying to work on conserving water, and figuring ways to reuse it. Love this lens....

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on June 26, 2010:

@norma-holt: Thanks for the visit, Norma! Wow - you must live on a beautiful block. Thanks so much for the blessing and for featuring this lens on yours. Much appreciated.

norma-holt on June 21, 2010:

Great lens on such an important subject. My entire block is a rain garden full of native trees and shrubs and mulched over to stop weeds. It is completely maintenance free yet I grow over 30 different types of fruit and most of my vegies. *-*Bllessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on Save Planet Earth

megank824 on February 11, 2010:

@CherylK: Thanks Cheryl! That is a big help.

I will be sure to send you a note when the manual is ready. It should be available online.

Take care!

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on February 10, 2010:

@megank824: Hi Megan...glad you like the photo. I got permission to use it from a Flickr photographer (if you click on the picture you'll be taken to his photostream.). Here's a link to his raingarden set of photographs http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottie32/sets/721576... I think you should contact him and I know he'll be pleased to let you use any of the pictures in that set. You can tell him you saw the photo on my Squidoo lens. Good luck with your manual and let me know when it's ready...would love to take a look at it!

megank824 on February 10, 2010:

Hi Cheryl,

Not sure if my first post went through...

I work for a nonprofit and I'm wondering if I may use your photo of the newly planted rain garden for a stormwater management manual I'm helping write. It is a great picture! Thanks,


AppalachianCoun on February 09, 2010:

Great information that I will use. Thx for all the work on this lens! 5*

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on February 02, 2010:

@Levitah: Thank you for stopping by, Levitah, and welcome to Squidoo. So glad you agree that we need to protect our natural waterways!

Levitah on January 31, 2010:

What a great lens, I really enjoyed reading rain gardens. Thank you for sharing it. 5*

Cheryl Kohan (author) from England on January 15, 2010:

I appreciate all the supportive comments...thanks much. Water is such a critical natural resource and rain gardens and lakescapes are perfect filters. Plus they're just so beautiful.

Kimsworld LM on January 11, 2010:

I also built a rainwater collection system to water my vegetable garden. We have been in a severe drought so long that every little drop will help, when summer comes around.

Rainwater_Harvester on November 24, 2009:

Great lens, I collect rainwater in rainwater tanks and then direct the overflow to certain areas of my garden where it soaks into the soil to do the most good. Since I've started doing this my garden has benefited greatly.

CaroleBee on August 31, 2009:

Cheryl, thank you for writing such an informative lens about this very important issue. Stormwater management is on of the tenets of Conservation Gardening, where I have added this lens to my lensroll.

sittonbull on July 27, 2009:

Congratulations on making Kim G's "Another Day of 100 Squid Angel Blessings" with this great lens. Water conservation and quality are a passion of mine and especially important to the quality of our lives as we end this decade and move forward into the next.

KimGiancaterino on July 27, 2009:

You've been blessed by a Squid Angel, and this lens was included in Another Day of One Hundred Squid Angel Blessings.

Seeking Pearls from Pueblo West on July 12, 2009:

I love your photos:) This lens is very informative. I am apartment living not by choice but necessity. My dad does the gardening in his little mountain town. Thanks for the kind encouragement when you stopped by. I appreciate it immensely:)

RinchenChodron on June 18, 2009:

Very well written and interesting - I actually read every word! Thanks for an informative and creative and meaningful lens - 5 stars and a fav. Best wishes in reaching Giant Squid very soon!

Demaw on June 10, 2009:

In my area people are cementing up their front yards for convenience and to park their extra cars. Now the local politicians want to pass a law that says they have to leave a certain percentage with gravel or anything that would allow water to soak in. This would help with the problem of overflowing sewers and flooding. I love the beautiful pictures of the flowers in your garden. 5 plus lens.

Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) from FL on June 06, 2009:

I have moved recently and have been working on landscaping plans. I think I need to change them a little. Thanks so much for your information, Great lens!

Lee Hansen from Vermont on May 15, 2009:

We think alike when it comes to gardening and protecting the watershed. Thanks for visiting my Rain Gardens lens and for your kind comments- 'rolled back to this rain garden lens as another solid resource.

kimmanleyort on May 14, 2009:

Thanks for featuring my lens. This is a wonderful lens and very practical - one way each person can make a difference.

anonymous on May 08, 2009:

Extremely well written lens! Information here I hadn't thought about before. 5*s for U!

JanieceTobey on April 30, 2009:

Wonderful lens! Thanks for the info! 5's!

RolandTumble on April 29, 2009:

Very nice. 5*, favorite & lensrolled to my eco-lens

Lazy_Environmentalist on April 28, 2009:

Great lens! You've put together a lot of helpful information here. I'd love for you to visit my lens and say hello when you have the chance.

AppalachianCoun on April 15, 2009:

This is so needed. The mountain farmers down here do this all over. Great lens.

anonymous on April 10, 2009:

I'm a big fan of sustainable ideas and this is such a simple and effective one.

Great lens and deservingly blessed.

religions7 on April 08, 2009:

Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

rockycha on March 19, 2009:

Caught your shout it out :) Wonderful lens worthy of a squid angel blessing - excellent development of this topic and very well presented...

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on February 22, 2009:

Your lenses are always beautiful, well-written and informative, Cheryl. This one is exemplary. What a perfect weekend project for the whole family!

mistyblue75605 lm on December 05, 2008:

5*'s very nice lens!! Love the topic and content!!

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on November 29, 2008:

I had never heard of this but it makes perfect sense. 5***** for a very nice lens.

Yvonne L B from Covington, LA on November 04, 2008:

Great Green gardening lens. I'm lensrolling it to my Sustainable Gardening a la Rabbit Hill lens. Have you thought about submitting it to our Naturally Native Squids group? I hope you will.

Pastor Kay on October 27, 2008:

The Prairie Smoke is beautiful. I am not familiar with it.

Andy-Po on September 26, 2008:

Great lens. I now wish I had a garden. (5*)

anonymous on September 16, 2008:

Yes, stop water pollution. We must practice proper waste management and take good care of our environment. 5* for you

SustainableSarah on September 14, 2008:

This is a wonderful lens on SUCH an important topic (as is Elizabeth Jean Allen's!). I'm so glad I saw this in your lenses. I just watched a move called FLOW (and, of course, will make a lens about it!) but it's incredibly impactful and I totally recommend that you check it out. I was just in CA and was talking to a water conservationist about algal blooms in the Monterey bay and the effect of pesticide run off- it's terrifying!

mllamb46 on September 05, 2008:

WOW, what a fantastic lens Cheryl! Its so informative as well as a pleasure to look at!

(Thanks for your nice comments too)


anonymous on September 01, 2008:

This lens is very informative. I learned a lot about water run off and thr right kinds of mulch.

thank you for a beautiful contribution, Cheryl.

Thank you also for your wonderful comments. You made my day!

Patricia on July 26, 2008:

What a great lens. Thanks for stopping by my Being Earth Friendly lens and favoriting it and lensrolling. I am doing the same on yours. I love your lenses!

religions7 on May 19, 2008:

Very good point, and very well made. Gardens should be made in such a way that they help water go into the ground, instead of into the sewers or surface water.

MacPharlain on May 16, 2008:

Cool lens! Thanks for spreading the word about rain gardens.

funwithtrains lm on May 06, 2008:

Nice Lens! 5 stars and a favorite from me! Please visit my Marklin Trains lens.

ElizabethJeanAl on April 27, 2008:

What a great lens with great information! I lensrolled it to my lens on water and water pollution.


eccles1 on April 27, 2008:

what a great idea!

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on April 25, 2008:

What a great lens! 5 stars and Favored!

The Purple Gallinulesloved your lens so much that they are sending you some virtual Raindrops

triathlontraini1 on April 22, 2008:

Hey fellow Minnesotan! Great job on the Lens. I love the topic!

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on April 20, 2008:

Another really good one! We do have a runoff problem and I wouldn't mind having a lovely flower garden. Could solve two problems in one, right? Thanks!

Imogen Crest on April 19, 2008:

A lens with some great ideas! Thanks for creating it!

merriweather on April 15, 2008:

Great information and fairly simple to implement. Thanks!

Moe Wood from Eastern Ontario on April 13, 2008:

Excellent lens. I've been considering this for the front yard so I really appreciated your lens. My first goal this season is to get a decent looking, inexpensive rain barrel.

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